A decade ago, not many whisky writers were paying much attention to Deanston, but this entry-level expression has been slowly but surely rising in people’s estimation. Consider Serge’s scores – he first tried the current iteration at 46.3% in 2009, giving it a score of 74 and saying ‘maybe we should have waited for twenty more years before trying it’. In 2013 it fetched 81, and then in 2017 it was in the lofty high-80s range (87). This year it’s been getting even more attention since Ralfy named it his whisky of the year. Not bad given its humble beginnings.
Nose: Not sure if they’ve changed the recipe but I’m finding a lot more first-fill bourbon casks in recent bottles, so plenty of honey and vanilla sweetness above everything else. Deanston is a delicate malt and the wood influence adds a welcome layer of richness, but sometimes I find it a touch too bourbon-forward – a bit like its 18 year-old sibling. It’s a bottling I like to compare with young Balblairs – they’re both similarly ‘naked’ but where the Balblair is mostly on citrus fruit, the Deanston is more on honey, cereal and bakery/yeasty notes.
Palate: Big sweet note on arrival, but water makes it subside – it brings more balance along with a dry gingery note. It’s not particularly fruity, but it’s improved a lot since I first tried it in the early 2010s – back then it was quite dry and unremarkable, but the first-fill casks have brought a welcome sweetness. The balance between the dry and sweet notes is there, and it’s certainly bright and interesting enough. Water brings out coconut (again the active casks talking), a la Kavalan strangely enough. A malty, cereally note is always there in the background.
Finish: Quite lingering, with a yeasty (sourdough?) note.
Comments: The Deanston 12 is not a nosing whisky and sometimes the bourbon sweetness can feel a bit generic, but they’ve improved it a lot over the years. It is a bready, malty whisky that never strays too far from its components – i.e. grain and yeast. All the cereal and bakery notes are a clear reminder of the whisky-making process. Unfortunately, I’m not enjoying this bottle as much as one I bought last year – the earlier bottle was considerably fruitier and more balanced, and I wouldn’t have hesitated to recommend it as one of the best value for money malts. This one, however, indicates some batch variability that makes it less recommendable.